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Snowshoeing in France’s Southern Alps

En raquettes

If you’ve ever been to the Southern Alps in France in winter, you’ll know that the region has a reputation of offering wonderful snow conditions as well as incredibly blue skies and a very agreeable climate.  It is almost unbelievable that mountains this far to the south in Europe can be covered in snow in such quantities and for such a long time, knowing that you’re only a 2 hours’ drive away from cities like Aix en Provence or the Mediterranean Sea.  And winter has so much to offer for the outdoor sport lovers, you can go alpine skiing, cross country skiing, make a dog sled ride, ice climbing or just sit in the garden in a light sweater to read and enjoy the sun, but that is for another post.  And of course, you can go snowshoeing in France’s Southern Alps. 

Snowshoeing

Oh, did I mention snowshoeing?  This area we’re living in has plenty of options.  You can go for a snowshoe walk in the ski resorts like Vars and Risoul, where you’ll possibly start off in the resort, but you’ll soon be in the middle of the forest, far away from the hustle and noise of the ski slopes.  You could go to the Parc Naturel des Ecrins, where there are several beautiful valleys like the vallée de Freissinières or the vallée du Fournel.  You could also opt for the Parc du Queyras, where there’s plenty of options as well. 

We have been snowshoeing in the Parc du Queyras several times.  We’ll never forget our first hike on snowshoes, shortly after we settled in this region.  A friend invited us for a discovery of this amazing winter sports activity.  She took us to the area of Arvieux, where we set off for the Chalets de Clapeyto, beautiful mountain chalets in a truly amazing setting.  The hike was not too difficult and sunny all the way.  We took lunch next to one of the chalets, enjoying the sun, the view and the peacefulness.  Not a sound to hear.  Chalets covered with snow, probably a meter thick.  Sheer beauty. 

Another time we went all the way to the far end of the Queyras, to the village of L’Echalp, a hamlet of Ristolas.  There as well, we walked under a blue sky, with the sun warming us as we walked.  Temperatures of around -15°C, but thanks to the sun, it didn’t feel that cold.  We set off on a fairly horizontal path, in the direction of the belvedere du Mont Viso.  We stopped frequently to admire the scenery of course, which was just breath-taking.  We couldn’t help but make some photos…

Près de l'Echalp

Each time we are enchanted by the silence, and when we stopped for a minute, we didn’t hear a thing.  And the views along the way, the grandness of the mountain area makes us humble every time again.  We always wonder how the wild animals can survive in these harsh circumstances.  The Queyras often “suffers” from what they call “le retour d’est” or “the return from the east”, a condition in which clouds get stuck in the valley of the Queyras, and bring extremely heavy snowfall, up to 2,5 meters overnight.  The advantage for tourists is that once the area is accessible again, the scenery is too beautiful.  We were lucky, the “retour d’est” happened a few days before our last snowshoe hike. 

Neige et ciel bleu

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